Myanmar riot police descend on copper mine protesters

Demonstrators in northwest Myanmar faced water cannons and tear gas on Thursday while protesting a copper mine expansion that will displace villagers. Protests over land disputes have become more common with the country's liberalization.

Khin Maung Win/AP
Protesters hold placards as they stage a rally outside the city hall in Yangon, Myanmar, against a copper mining project in central Myanmar Monday. Emboldened by Myanmar's changing political climate, farmers, villagers, factory workers, and others are now staging demonstrations in various parts of the country over issues ranging from land confiscation to electricity cuts.

Riot police fired water cannons and tear gas early on Thursday to disperse people protesting against the forced eviction of villagers in northwestern Myanmar to make way for a copper mine expansion, residents and activists said.

Land disputes are a growing problem in Myanmar. Protests were suppressed quickly under the junta in place until last year but have become more common as President Thein Sein has opened up the country and pushed through reforms.

Truckloads of police arrived at camps set up near the Monywa mine in the Sagaing region to protest against the $1 billion expansion, which locals say has caused the unlawful confiscation of more than 7,800 acres of land.

"They started to disperse the crowd by using water cannon at Kyaw Ywa camp at about 2:55 a.m.," Shin Oattama, a Buddhist monk who had been helping the villagers, told Reuters by telephone.

"They then shot some sort of canisters that caused fire at the camp. We just don't know what sort of weapon it was." He said about 10 monks were injured and two of them were in a critical condition.

"We are now seeking refuge at a nearby village. There's no ambulance, no doctor to take care of the injured," he said.

Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace laureate and a member of parliament, planned to visit the protesters on Thursday to hear their grievances. Officials from her National League for Democracy (NLD) party said she flew out ofYangon early in the day.

She was due to fly to the central city of Mandalay and then travel northwest to Sagaing. NLD official Ohn Kyaingsaid she had been told of developments before she left.

The copper mine is run by a unit of China North Industries Corp, a leading Chinese weapons manufacturer, under a deal signed in June 2010 after Canada's Ivanhoe Mines Ltd pulled out in 2007.

It is backed by the military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd (UMEHL).

UMEHL operated with impunity under the military regime that ruled Myanmar for almost half a century until 2011.

However, emboldened by reforms under President Thein Sein, who took office in March 2011, villagers are pushing back and testing the limits of newfound freedoms, including a relaxation of laws on public protests.

Authorities had warned the protesters late on Tuesday to clear the site by midnight that day so that a parliamentary commission could carry out an investigation. State television said all project work had been halted since Nov. 18 because of the protests.

Myo Thant, a member of the 88 Generation Students Group who has been monitoring the situation in Monywa, said: "Police used tear gas canisters. Gun shots were not heard. So far as we know, three Buddhist monks were injured in the fire that broke out at one of the camps. Nobody knows for sure how the fire started."

Protests stretching back at least three months have involved thousands of locals and supporters. They told Reuters in September that four of 26 villages at the project site had already been displaced, along with monasteries and schools. (Writing by Alan Raybould; Editing by Paul Tait)

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Myanmar riot police descend on copper mine protesters
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today